We stopped by at the Museum in Vaishali an walked through the exhibition in half an hour. The capital city of the Licchavis, Vaishali was the most important centre of governance, commerce, culture and religion from the sixth to the fourth century BC, when Patliputra took over that role. Evidently, the kimgdom was a “republic” and practiced a kind of consultative monarchy, for it seems that thousands of elected representatives were involved in decision making on important issues. Before doing so, they would have a ritual bath in a big tank, known as the abhisheka (coronation) tank.
Vaishali’s historical importance was realised by an young Indian Civil Service (ICS )officer, Mr Jagdish Chandra Mathur, who was posted here as a Sub-Divisional Officer. He continued to support both archaeological as well as developmental activities in this area, through out his career. Mr Mathur was later posted in the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India. One of his initiatives was to bring to Vaishali, a remarkable development worker Mr Krishan Dev Dewan.
Mr Dewan had studied agriculture in the undivided Punjab and after the Partition, used his knowledge of agriculture and his community organising skills to make a group of refugees from Pakistan self-reliant in Nilokheri (near Karnal) . In the mid sixties, as India faced food shortages and food self-sufficieny became the national goal, Mr Mathur was instrumental in launching the Freedom From Hunger Campaign (FFHC), which was partially supported by the FAO. At the behest of Mr Mathur, Mr KD Dewan moved to Vaishali in 1968 and started a remarkable set of projects to enhance agricultural productivity of small farmers .
In the meanwhile, FFHC was renamed Peoples’ Action for Development India (PADI) and Mr JB Singh, a very dynamic and devoted official of the Agriculture Ministry, was appointed its Director. I had the honour of knowing JB for many years first when he was the Doirector of the NGO -Action for Food Production -AFPRO and then when we both served on the Board of Gram Vikas, an NGO in Orissa. JB was its Chairman and we spent many evenings together in Gram Vikas’ Mohuda campus, when JB would recall his days as an agricultural supervisor, initially involved with the famous All India Rural Debt Enquiry (the Gorawara Committee), later introducing high yielding varieties and still later in PADI. It was from JB that I heard of Mr Dewan and his work, though I never had the opportunity to meet him in person.
PADI started working in the early 1970s towards the goal of making better means of production and agricultural inputs accessible to the farmers, particularly small farmers in a compact area who had been organised into Small Farmers’ Associations (SFAs).
Small farmers located in the districts of Vaishali, Muzaffarpur, East Champaran, West Champaran and Darbhanga of North Bihar and Deoria of Eastern U.P. were. over the years, organised into 20 Small Farmers’ Associations (SFAs) each with about 1000 farmers. Each of the SFAs was provided a revolving fund of Rs 200.000 and assets/ infrastructure like borewells, irrigation pumps and a pipeline network., an office and warehouse building, furniture and training equipment for agricultural and allied activities. Apart from faming, allied activities like dairy, horticulture, vermicompost, mushroom cultivation, fishery and piggery and bee keeping; and non-farm activities like carpet weaving were promoted to provide additional income to farmers. Some of the SFAs managed to get funds from different funding agencies and government organizations to engage in the production of garlic, cauliflower seedling and processed honey. Two began carpet weaving, even managing to export carpets.
Initially, PADI staff were deputed to the SFAs as General Secretaries to undertake the key tasks such as irrigation and land development, crop planning, procurement of seed and fertilisers, on-farm agronomic advice, crop marketing, allied activities and agro-processing and non-farm activities such as carpet weaving. Mr Dewan’s idea was that in due course, the members of the SFAs will play leadership roles. But that did not happen due to the lack of managerial, financial and technical expertise among the members. In order to fulfill this gap, Mr Dewan envisaged the Consultancy-cum-Guidance Centre (CGC) in 1979 and gradually established it by 1984. The PADI staff, however, continued to play the role of General Secretaries in each SFA, and the SFA members continued to depend on Mr Dewan for vision and inspiration and the General Secretaries for management and implementation.
For all his greatness and vision, one of Mr Dewan’s tenets – that the SFAs must work at no-profit, no-loss – led to the SFAs having no financial sources to revive defunct tubewells and to buy inputs like seeds and fertilisers in bulk. In 1989, when PADI , which by then had become CAPART, withdrew its staff as well as the revolving fund of Rs 200,00 from each SFA, even after 18 years they had not become self-reliant and financially sustainable. After forty years, the SFAs still exist but have lost vitality. Much of the old irrigation and agricultural infrastructure has become defunct and the executive committees of the SFAs have become inactive in many cases. There are 20 SFAs , each with roughly 1000 members, as follows:
|Sl. No.||District||Name of SFA||Place|
|01.||VAISHALI (5)||BASFARCA||Goroul, Bibipur|
|03.||EAST CHAMPARAN (2)||RASFARCA||Rulhi|
|04.||WEST CHAMPARAN (8)||SASFARCA||Semra|
|SASFARCA (SASFA -2)||Sanichiri|
In 2005, the son of late Mr JC Mathur, Mr Lalit Mathur, an Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Andhra Pradesh cadre, became the Director General of CAPART. He visited the CGC and the SFAs and came to the conclusion that the SFAs needed major capacity building. As he knew my work in PRADAN as well as in BASIX, he got in touch to see if I would get involved. As I was much too tied up with existing commitments, I introduced Lalit to Mr Tarun Saha, the Bihar State Head of ASSEFA, a Gandhian NGO I was associated with since 1981. Indeed, I had worked as a PRADAN professional with ASSEFA from 1982 to 85 in the Gaya and Jamui districts of Bihar, on projects of land and water development for small farmers who had received Bhoodan land.
I also worked on group tubewells, and some of these were funded through a loan from the Central Bank of India, the same bank which has funded VASFA and other SFAs. Tarun had joined ASSEFA in 1985 and spread the work manifold. Afterm my introduction, he met Mr Lalit Mathur in 2006 and then visited the SFAs and the CGC, but was not able to excite them to undertake anything new or loan-based. Partly to revisit that idea, and partly for old times’ sake, I had asked Tarun to join me on this visit to Vaishali.
Mihir had arranged that we meet Mr Dipanker Shri Gyan, Regional Deputy Director of CAPART, based in Patna, who is also in charge of the CGC. He shared with us his analysis of the situation of the SFAs. The older leadership has not been able to adapt to a new regime where there are no grants funding and no father figure like Mr Dewan to provide detailed guidance. The younger generation is either not interested in agriculture, if educated. If they stay back in the village, it is out of a sense of not having any alternative. As the holdings are becoming smaller due to family division, irrigation water is becoming hard to get due to break down of tube wells and crop inputs are becoming expensive, they are not motivated to do their best in agriculture.
He suggested that the members should be motivated to elect new executive committees with at least one third young men and one-third women, leaving only a third for the older generation who had become dependent on CAPART funding and CGC guidance. He had also drawn up a list of physical works that needed to be done in each SFA, such tubewell repair, and made an estimated budget. Thus the “revival plan” was ready. The question is . who will bell the cat?
Back to Vaishali – 2nd April 2011
So here I am, back in Bihar. Landed in Patna and after getting together with several colleagues who have come from various places – Kaushik, an IITian who works in BASIX vocational training company B-ABLE; Manoj Mishra, who was with me in Bastar already; Harinarain Pande ji, my “field guide” in rural development, with whom I worked in Madhya Pradesh for many years; Shishir, who left us to join ITC’s CSR team and is now with Usha Martin’s NGO KGVK, and of course, Mihir, who is now the COO of Indian Grameen Services. Several others dripped out and some will join in the next few days aas we make our way to the Bhitharwa Ashram near Bettiah, West Champaran, where I have convened a seminar on “Reinterpreting Gandhiji’s Champaran Satyagraha for the 21st Century”. Several eminent Gandhians, including 90 year old Razi saheb from Patna and Dr Ramji Singh, will be attending.
We drove to Viashali. Mercifully the 6.4 km long Ganga bridge ( Ima told it is the longest in Asia) connecting Patna wth Hajipur was not congested as it was the last time I crossed it m when it took two hours. We made it in just two hours to Vaishali, where we drove to the office of the Vaishali Area Small Farmers’ Association (VASFA). This is one of the 22 such small farmers’ associations which were established by Mr Krshan Dev Dewan, a remarkable individual. (See blog of Day 43 Vaishali CGC for more).